Background Paper for the Symposium:
Learning Alliances for scaling up innovative approaches
in the Water and Sanitation sector
Delft, The Netherlands
Table of Contents
List of Acronyms ........................................................................................................................ 3
Acknowledgements .................................................................................................................... 4
Executive Summary ................................................................................................................... 5
Section 1. Learning Alliances: theory and concepts......................................................... 8
1.1. Definition: What is a Learning Alliance?..................................................................................... 8
1.2. Why are Learning Alliances necessary?....................................................................................... 8
1.3. The Learning Alliance concept and approach ............................................................................ 10
1.4. How Learning Alliances relate to other relevant concepts ......................................................... 11
Section 2. Establishing and working with Learning Alliances...................................... 14
2.1. Stakeholder identification, and roles and responsibilities with LAs........................................... 14
2.2. Working at different levels ......................................................................................................... 17
2.3. Building blocks for learning alliances ........................................................................................ 18
Section 3. Experiences of applying the LA approach and concept ............................... 23
3.1. Lessons learnt from existing programmes on the Learning Alliances approach ........................ 26
Section 4. Next steps and leading questions .................................................................... 27
Section 5. References, bibliography and further reading.............................................. 30
5.1. Books, manuals, articles and papers ........................................................................................... 30
5.2. Websites ..................................................................................................................................... 31
5.3. References .................................................................................................................................. 32
Section 6. Annexes ............................................................................................................. 34
Annex 1 – IRC project experience with Learning Alliances................................................................... 34
Annex 2. A flexible framework for establishing and working with Learning Alliances......................... 47
Contacts .................................................................................................................................... 52
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 2
List of Acronyms
AKIS Agricultural Knowledge and Information System
AI Anchoring Institute
BUS initiative Basic Urban Services initiative
CBO Community Based Organisation
CGIAR Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
CIAT Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical
CINARA Insituto de Investigación y Desarrollo en Agua Potable, Saneamiento Básico y
Conservación del Recurso Hídrico
CoP Communities of Practice
DfID Department for International Development
DGIS Directorate General for International Cooperation of the Netherlands Government
DLA District Learning Alliance
EMPOWERS Partnership Euro-Mediterranean Participatory Water Resources Scenarios Partnership
EU PCM European Union Project Cycle Management
IDRC International Development Research Institute
INGO International Non-Governmental Organisation
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre
IRWGs Inter-Institutional Regional Working Groups
IWRM Integrated Water Resources Management
LA Learning Alliance
MSF Multi Stage Filtration
MSP Multi Stakeholder Platform
MUS project Multiple Use Systems
NGO Non-Governmental Organisation
NLA National Learning Alliance
O&M Operation & Maintenance
PRA Participatory Rural Appraisal
PTD Participatory Technology Development
QPA Quantified Participatory Assessment
RAAKS Rapid Appraisal of Agricultural Knowledge Systems
RC Resource Centre
RCN Resource Centre Network
RIDA Resources Infrastructure Demand Access
SC Steering Committee
SCP Sustainable Cities Programme
SDCA Stakeholder Dialogue and Concerted Action
SWAP Sector Wide Approach
SWELL Securing Water to Enhance Local Livelihoods
SWOT Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats
TLP Team Learning Projects
TRANSCOL Technology Transfer Programme in Water Supply Treatment in Colombia
UN-HABITAT United Nations Human Settlements Programme
UNICEF United Nations Children’s Fund
Woreda District (Ethiopia)
WRA Water Resources Assessment
WASH Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
WUAs Water Users Associations
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 3
A great number of colleagues from IRC and partner organisations have contributed to the
thinking on Learning Alliances. They have helped to revise the draft text of this document
through written inputs, debate in project workshops or other contributions. We would like to
thank them for their efforts. Special thanks are due to Inés Restrepo-Tarquino, Mark Lundy,
Jaap Pels, Erma Uytewaal, Tunde Adegoke, Deirdre Casella, Jan Teun Visscher, Kathleen
Shordt and Marielle Snel. We also would like to thank Bill McCann, who edited the many
English versions of the document.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 4
Learning Alliances are a series of connected stakeholder platforms, created at key institutional levels
(typically national, intermediate and local/community) and designed to break down barriers to both
horizontal and vertical information sharing and thus to speed up the process of identification,
development and uptake of innovation. Each platform is intended to group together a range of
partners with complementary capabilities in such areas as implementation, regulation, policy and
legislation, research and learning and documentation and dissemination.
The central premise of the Learning Alliance approach is that, by giving as much attention to the
processes of innovating and scaling up innovation as is normally given to the subject of the
innovation itself, barriers to uptake and replication can be overcome. The Learning Alliance
approach has arisen from a sense of frustration over the evident failure of much relevant and
effective innovation – technological or institutional – to move beyond the pilot stage.
A number of reasons for these failures can be identified, including most seriously:
! Innovation that takes place in an environment that does not reflect the realities of the country or
region concerned. It is not productive to ignore or circumvent inbuilt barriers to progress in order
to have a successful pilot. Scaling up will be impossible if problems such as weak institutions,
unfavourable legislation, or lack of financing opportunities are not addressed and overcome at
the pilot stage.
! Pilot projects that are implemented by large, well equipped project teams working intensively
with communities. It is not realistic to expect successful scaling up from such a base if similar
resources cannot be deployed more widely or if personnel with similar skills are not available in
! Innovation and knowledge creation is not consolidated and built into a structured system. In such
cases dissemination typically happens at the end of the project when it is too late for meaningful
transfer of knowledge or ownership.
! Failure to create national (or even local) ownership of activities. This can happen when project
teams work in isolation, in a sort of institutional vacuum. Without effective links to the relevant
levels of administration there can be no effective mechanism for scaling up.
! Failure to build capacity for replication and scaling-up. Reliance on specialised project teams
means that no additional capacity is created within the institutions that, in the longer term, are
expected to either replicate or support the innovation.
The Learning Alliance approach is intended to overcome these problems by systematically
addressing the issues surrounding going to scale as part of the same process as undertaking the
innovation itself. It aims to do this by:
! Carrying out innovation and learning within an alliance of practitioners, researchers, policy
makers and activists who, together, will provide an ‘engine’ for uptake and replication.
! Ensuring that innovation happens in a context (institutional, financial) that is realistic for a given
country or region, making the innovation suitable for quick uptake.
! Making explicit where extra resources must be brought to bear for specific technical or
institutional reasons, and analysing how these extra resources can be found/created within the
structures that will scale up the innovation.
! Creating an environment in which it is possible to be honest and open about lessons learned –
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! Creating an environment in which flexibility and adaptation to local circumstances become the
norm when dealing with complex developmental problems.
Learning Alliances are proposed as a more effective alternative to conventional approaches for
scaling up innovations in the water and sanitation sector. While a relatively new concept they draw
heavily on a number of already well known approaches including, particularly, action research and
social learning. They are currently being used in a number of IRC projects, looking at issues as
diverse as multiple-use water services, local level integrated water resource management and the
provision of basic urban services. All of these projects are at an early stage of development but they
have nevertheless provided a number of useful lessons and highlighted several questions for the
future. These include:
! There are no technological or methodological silver bullets: Developmental processes are highly
complex. There are no simple or single technological or methodological answers. Innovations
often fail to be scaled up because they are “alien objects” with no roots in local contexts; they are
not integrated into the enabling environment necessary to support and sustain them. It is the
process of creating the enabling environment through learning among different stakeholders
which will lead to impact and sustainability.
! Learning Alliances take time and resources: The process of making a few stakeholders interested
in the concept, then inviting several other stakeholders to initiate the process and then keeping
the process going takes time and resources.
! Learning Alliances need an engine: Champions are needed to sell the idea, organise the initial
meetings and keep the process going after these first steps have been taken.
! Learning, not planning, is the main focus of Learning Alliances: In conventional approaches
most meetings tend to be about planning and negotiation, not learning. Central to the learning
alliance approach is the importance of creating the space to enable learning through negotiation.
Failures must be allowed and must be discussed openly. Making the learning component the
focus of the process requires good facilitators and committed stakeholders.
! Documentation, reporting and dissemination need a specific budget and time allocation
throughout the process: In a Learning Alliance the learning is done throughout the process, not
at the end. For this to happen, documentation, reporting and dissemination should be properly
! The learning process: How can we best mediate the introduction of new information and its
transformation into knowledge? How can we create a pro-learning environment?
! Facilitation: Learning Alliances require skilled facilitators. But who should facilitate such
processes? Where do the skills exist?
! Project management and funding: Will we need to change existing models such as log frames
that are focused on goals, objectives and outputs and ignore the process of innovation, adaptation
All these issues, as well as others identified by other partners, will be discussed in more detail during
the Learning Alliances symposium that will take place in Delft between the 6th and 10th June, 2005.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 6
The term Learning Alliance is of fairly recent coinage, although many of the concepts behind it have
been under development in different sectors for some time. In particular they build heavily on the
concept of action learning, as well as ideas of social learning more generally. The term has been
adopted by CIAT (Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical) who advocate the use of Learning
Alliances by the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) as a means of
increasing the effectiveness and relevance of research, the impact of development work and better
informed policies (Lundy and Ashby, 2004).
This paper sets out for further discussion the main concepts underlying IRC’s approach to Learning
Alliances as an innovative way of thinking about the structures and processes necessary to support
stakeholder-led innovations and bring them to scale as quickly and effectively as possible. In other
words, to focus on the process of innovation and scaling-up rather than, as is more usually the case,
on the subject of the innovation.
The paper centres on innovation in the context of sustainable domestic water, sanitation and hygiene
(WASH) services, and in the associated fields of multiple water use and water resource management.
It nevertheless draws heavily on experiences in many other sectors, in particular those dealing with
agricultural research and extension, and knowledge management.
The paper has been prepared as background to the upcoming Symposium on Learning Alliances, to
be held in the Netherlands between the 6th and 10th of June, 2005. As such its aim is to set out in as
succinct a manner as possible the key concepts underlying this approach and to outline the current
state of thinking about how to move forward.
This paper is divided into six main sections:
! Section 1 deals with the conceptual background to Learning Alliances
! Section 2 deals with some of the practicalities of setting up and facilitating Learning Alliances
! Section 3 outlines lessons learnt from programmes where IRC and partners have been
implementing and working with Learning Alliances (Further detailed in Annex 1)
! Section 4 discusses the next steps and raises some questions about the further development of the
Learning Alliances approach
! Section 5 provides an annotated bibliography and references for further reading
! Section 6 – The Annexes. Annex1 details project experiences with Learning Alliances. In Annex
2 a flexible framework is proposed for establishing and working with Learning Alliances
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Section 1. Learning Alliances: theory and concepts
1.1. Definition: What is a Learning Alliance?
At its simplest a Learning Alliances is a series of linked platforms, existing at different institutional
levels (national, district, community, etc.) and created with the aim of bringing together a range of
stakeholders interested in innovation and the creation of new knowledge in an area of common
interest. The stakeholders involved should have complementary capabilities which, when combined,
will allow the new knowledge created in the innovation process to be brought to scale. Some of the
key capabilities required are in: implementation, regulation, policy and legislation, research and
learning, and documentation and dissemination.
Learning alliances require facilitation to overcome barriers to interaction and communication within
and between the stakeholder platforms. They aim to enable a shared learning process in which
barriers to horizontal and vertical information sharing are broken down.
Learning alliances, by involving key stakeholders at all levels in the process of knowledge creation,
aim to ensure that innovation takes place within a framework of local and national conditions and
norms that ensure that what is produced is relevant and appropriate.
Scaling-up is understood to include not only the widespread replication of an innovation but also
(and critically) its quality and sustainability. Rapid replication, for example of borehole and hand-
pump installation, is of no use if the systems and services replicated are not sustainable in the long
term. Learning Alliances aim to address the critical issue of sustainability by looking not only at
the innovation itself but also at the enabling environment necessary to maintain and sustain it.
1.2. Why are Learning Alliances necessary?
Why is a conceptual model such as that proposed under the title of a ‘learning alliance’ necessary?
Simply put, we believe that, due to a number of failings in conventional models of knowledge
development and innovation, much innovative and potentially useful work never succeeds in moving
beyond the original area in which it was piloted. Indeed much innovation takes place with no clear
model for its uptake rather than a vague idea that following the ‘research’ there must be some
‘dissemination’. We believe that, by putting the process of innovation and the scaling-up of
innovation centre stage, and by designing the structures that will carry out the innovation with the
explicit intention of avoiding some of these failings, we will significantly reduce the potential for
good innovation to simply wither from lack of support.
In this section we outline some of the key failings of earlier work, including that of IRC, that have
either prevented good ideas from taking off or impeded the rate of their development.
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Failure of research to lead to developmental impacts
The failure of academic (on station, non-participatory etc.) research to lead to the desired impacts in
terms of changes in policy and practice is now well documented and understood (see for example
Röling, 1986). There is also a long history of efforts to overcome this shortcoming through action
research, farmer learning and other interactive methodologies (Leeuwis and Pyburn, 2002b). Some
improvement has resulted but there have still been cases of limited impact because innovations were
not immediately suitable for wide-spread uptake (see next point). Sometimes too, innovations have
been taken forward by implementers (NGOs, donors, governments). Rope pumps, treadle pumps,
community gardens, family ponds and community small-dams are all well-known innovations that
have come from implementing organisations rather than “researchers” (Alberts and van der Zee,
2004; Robinson et al., 2004; Polak et al., 2004; Shah et al., 2000). Yet many of these local
innovations have also failed to go to scale.
Failure to deal with the environment in which innovation took place
While the adoption of action research and related approaches has led to great strides in making
research activities and agendas more relevant and practical it has, in many cases, focussed
exclusively on the level of the individual or the community. This has often meant that organisations
and institutions (such as water service providers or local representatives of line departments)
intended to support these communities have been sidelined, sometimes even becoming seen as ‘part
of the problem’. This is counter-productive because all these players have specific roles and are
essential links in the chain necessary for the wider provision of water services. Without their
participation the founding research agenda may be incomplete or misdirected and ultimately the
impact of an innovation can become limited and unsustainable because the institutions vital to
scaling up have not been represented in the LA. Experience suggests that, where local innovation has
been successfully scaled up, for instance with rope pumps in Nicaragua and Zimbabwe (Alberts and
van der Zee, 2004; Robinson et al., 2004), or treadle pumps in Bangladesh (Shah et al., 2000) it has
been achieved by working closely within the realities of the country.
Failure to acknowledge the means that innovators bring to their task
A special case of the general problem of failing to take into account the environment in which
innovation takes place, is that of researchers or external implementers failing to acknowledge the
importance of their own role in processes of innovation. This can be as simple as the critical
importance of having an outsider as ‘honest broker’ in a whole range of activities. But it often goes
much further, with a range of resources bring brought to bear to solve a problem that is utterly
unrealistic in terms of future replication. Depressingly familiar examples of this sort of practice
include: subsidising inputs for farmers; paying for people’s participation; subsidising the use of
highly trained facilitators to overcome bottlenecks; creating parallel structures to bypass ‘failing’
government; using highly motivated project teams that cannot be replicated; unrealistic levels of
resources for PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) - vehicles, fuel for vehicles, per-diems for
government staff and so on. Understanding the weaknesses (and strengths) of the institutions that
are supposed to be the future implementers and supporters of innovative approaches, and designing
such approaches within that institutional setting is essential to sustainability and scaling up.
Failure to consolidate learning, share knowledge and build capacity
Researchers, NGOs, donors and other implementers typically come into a community, do their
research (participatory or otherwise), produce a report and some academic papers, do a
‘dissemination workshop’ and move on to the next project. Often there is no consolidation of lessons
learned, no true sharing of results and no development of national or district-level ownership. Uptake
and scaling-up is left to ill-defined processes of ‘dissemination’ and ‘advocacy’. This type of
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 9
research programme does not allow for capacity building within the relevant regulatory and
implementing institutions such as local government, the private sector, NGOs and extension
services. Staff in these agencies are not given the skills to take the innovations to scale.
The above problems are fairly generic to any process of innovation but one additional set of issues is
more specific to the water and sanitation sector. It is that of fragmentation into a number of sub-
sectors, principally those dealing with a) domestic water supply, b) sewerage and waste-water, c)
irrigation, d) water resources management, and of course e) health.
At the same time the sector is linked with many other sectors such as local government, rural
development, social welfare and health. In the past centralised planning has made it difficult to bring
these (typically) governmental stakeholders together to work effectively at the local level or to
obtain synergies between them. Joint planning, financing and implementation of interventions has
therefore been difficult. The more recent trends to decentralisation offer a platform at the
intermediate level1 and the opportunity to bring these actors together for more ‘joined up’ planning.
1.3. The Learning Alliance concept and approach
The concept of Learning Alliances is built around the central proposition that only an integrated
approach to the process of innovation, bringing together all stakeholders (practitioners, researchers,
policy makers, activists), can address the range of failings described above. At the same time the
processes of interaction within the Learning Alliance should foster a sense of ownership of the
founding concepts and approaches, ensuring that the innovation developed is appropriate to the local
situation and capable of replication with existing (or realistically achievable) resources, institutions,
It is to achieve this that the three key levels of National, Intermediate and Community are seen as
being the most important to work with in a Learning Alliance. It is assumed, broadly speaking, that
national authorities will remain responsible for broader issues of policy and legislation, that
decisions on planning, implementation and support will generally be made at the intermediate level
and that the community is the level at which most WASH interventions take place and have their
primary locus of management.
The Learning Alliance concept is not radically new or strikingly innovative. It is an attempt to build
on a range of lessons learned from past failures (and successes) and to make the process of
innovation and the scaling up of innovation the central focus of attention. The LA concept should
not be seen as one more attempt to find a developmental silver bullet. On the contrary the base
assumption is that complex developmental problems cannot be solved by quick fixes. The route to
sustainability lies through the development of local knowledge to support local solutions while
accounting for local realities. LAs are proposed as a mechanism to facilitate and guide this adaptive
and flexible approach.
We use the term intermediate level to indicate the local level where decisions are being taken. The exact administrative
name for that level may differ from country to country. In some places it is called a district, in others a municipality, a
governorate or a local council. Sometimes there may even be 2 or 3 tiers of intermediate level. Put simply these are the
levels between national government and the communities.
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Knowledge, Information and Innovation
Knowledge, information and innovation, and the way that they relate to each other are critical
concepts within this document. They are briefly explained here.
Throughout the document the term knowledge is used to describe the intrinsic ability of
individuals or groups to carry out actions. The term information refers to knowledge that has
been made explicit or coded, in books, papers, manuals or other media.
Innovation is used to refer to the process by which new knowledge is created in groups or
individuals who did not have it before. Innovation does not therefore refer per-se to absolutely
new concepts. It can also refer to the mediated introduction of existing information to a group of
actors or to a context in which it has not been applied before.
Innovation can be a completely new type of pump; but it can equally well be the necessary
institutional arrangements or policies needed to introduce an existing pump to a location where it
has never been used before.
1.4. How Learning Alliances relate to other relevant concepts
In this section we briefly look at some of the key concepts which preceded Learning Alliances and
on which the latter are built. These include, action research, communities of practice, stakeholder
platforms and participatory research and learning in the agricultural sector.
Action research uses approaches designed to solve practical problems in support of and with the
active collaboration of stakeholders. It is a flexible process which allows action and
multidisciplinary research to be achieved at the same time (Dick, 2002). It is a win-win format: the
action is more efficient and the research more relevant. A critical concept of action research is cycles
of active experimentation followed by reflection. This cyclical approach is fundamental to any
system that wants to create adaptive, flexible and context-specific knowledge. It is therefore of key
importance in Learning Alliances.
Traditional approaches to capacity building often confuse it with training. While training and
education are of course enablers of increased capacity it is vital that people are, at the same time,
given the opportunity to put their new knowledge into practice. Learning Alliances provide a
structured framework for doing so by integrating the capacity building process into the ongoing
planning and implementation activities of sector organisations and communities. In this way
capacity building is also reinforced by the action/reflection cycles of the action research approach.
Multi Stakeholder platforms
There are several definitions and types of Multi Stakeholder Platform (MSP) but in essence an MSP
is a “negotiation and/or decision-making body (voluntary or statutory) comprising different
stakeholders who perceive the same resource management problem and realize their interdependence
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 11
in solving it” (Warner and Verhallen, 2004). Although conceptualised primarily as negotiating
platforms there is no reason why MSPs should not also have a learning role.
As such, the Learning Alliance model can be seen as a series of linked multi-stakeholder platforms
at key institutional levels. What is of particular value from the experience of MSPs is the facilitation
skills needed to effectively manage platforms where, despite (or perhaps because of) a shared
interest, there exist strong political and social forces that, if not carefully managed, can lead to the
platform splitting apart and failing in its main intention.
Agricultural sector experiences in participatory research and social learning
There are many analogies between LAs and the development of research and uptake in the
agricultural sector. Röling (1986) describes the history of agricultural research in relation to uptake
of innovations by farmers, and how the extension services were identified as a crucial link between
farmers and researchers. Taken together, research, extension, and use of knowledge can be analysed
from a so-called agricultural knowledge and information system (AKIS) perspective. The AKIS is
defined as “the articulated set of actors, networks and/or organisations, expected or managed to
work synergistically to support knowledge processes which improve the correspondence between
knowledge and environment, and/or the control provided through technology use in a given domain
of human activity” (Röling, 1992).
Since the earliest use of AKIS a number of organisations have taken the concepts and approaches
forward in forms appropriate to the practical application of their organisation’s work. Of particular
interest is the work done by CIAT (Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical), who are
developing and adopting a Learning Alliance approach in their Rural Agro-enterprise Development
Project (Lundy, 2004; Lundy and Ashby, 2004). In their work, a Learning Alliance is understood as
a “process undertaken jointly by research organizations, donor and development agencies, policy
makers and the private sector through which good practices, in both research and development, are
identified, shared, adapted and used to strengthen capacities, improve practices, generate and
document development outcomes, identify future research needs and potential areas for
collaboration and inform both public and private policy decisions” (Lundy and Ashby, 2004). A
definition that is very similar to the one used here, with the important difference that it does not deal
explicitly with the issue of institutional levels.
In many places there are extension services to assist farmers and agro-enterprises in innovation and
improving their practices. In the water and sanitation sector such a role can be played by Resource
Centres (RCs) as “organisations or networks of organisations that provide support services to the
water and sanitation sector, in an independent way” (IRC, 2004a).
Resource Centre Networks (RCNs) can play an important role in the facilitation and outreach of
learning alliances. They are typically engaged in activities such as:
! Analysis of policies and sector trends and developments;
! Facilitation of platforms for dialogue;
! Documentation and sharing of best practices;
! Stimulation of a learning environment;
! Facilitation of the systematic dissemination of information from policy to implementation and
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 12
Resource Centre Networks prevent the fragmentation of information and knowledge and the
duplication of effort that can result when the typical functions of a Resource Centre are spread over a
large number of organisations in an uncoordinated way.
However, in many places individual Resource Centres or Resource Centre Networks for the WASH
sector are not yet as established as those for agricultural extension services, nor are they positioned
as such in the sector. This often leaves both implementing organisations and end users in the water
sector without effective “extension” support and feed-back into research and policy agendas.
Therefore much attention is currently being given to strengthening RCs in a number of countries
through, for example the IRC RCD (Resource Centre Development) programme and the DfID
(Department for International Development) funded WELL programme (WELL, 2004).
Communities of Practice
Finally in this section, it is worth looking briefly at entities that, while of interest in themselves, are
not a learning alliance. Communities of Practice (CoP) are currently seen as a promising way of
setting up structured learning processes between practitioners and academics from different
organisations. However, one critical difference is that CoPs are typically composed of peers - people
from similar backgrounds who support each other in the learning process. LAs, in contrast, are
specifically intended to bring together actors with very different roles and backgrounds.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 13
Section 2. Establishing and working with Learning Alliances
Learning Alliances are a new approach to taking innovations to scale although, as the case studies
referred to in Section 3 and Annex 1 will show, the conceptual model derives much from several
past and ongoing activities in this area. This section describes what we see as the most important
factors to be taken into account when setting out to establish and work within a learning alliance
framework. These ideas are in a relatively early stage of development and will require further testing
before they can be formalised as a true methodology. For now they serve as a starting point.
2.1. Stakeholder identification, and roles and responsibilities with LAs
All learning alliances will begin with a core or founding group of actors whose interest in innovation
is to be served by the creation of a learning alliance. It is crucial that this core group has a clear idea
of what they want to achieve and how they intend to do it. Only in this way will they be able to
attract the interest of other key stakeholders. The core group will get bigger as the work of the
alliance increases and more stakeholders buy into the idea.
There can be no hard rules about who should be involved and in what manner. It will depend on such
factors as the specific work topic, the organisations available and interested, the resources available,
etc. What is important is that stakeholders have a shared vision of the objectives of the alliance and
background skills that can contribute to achieving them.
Which stakeholders should be involved at the different levels (and different stages) is something to
be worked out organically by the founding members as they seek to develop a coalition around their
area of interest and innovation. Ideally, each participating organisation should have some existing
level of interest in innovation related to a specific area. An important exception is actors without
such a direct interest who, because of their position, could impede or block progress at a later stage.
They should be drawn in to the Alliance to avoid or reduce that possibility.
Since facilitation is crucial to the overall success of a learning alliance the core team must, at an
early stage, identify the person for that role. This can raise problems because some core members
may feel they are suited to that position, whereas it is an essentially neutral role – not easily
combined with the primary task of a core member in trying to move the alliance forward! Certainly,
in the early stages of setting up the LA they will work in ‘advocacy’ mode – selling the idea to
potential partners. But, if deciding to play a facilitating role, it will be necessary for them to
relatively quickly shift into that mode – helping the new partners to understand, adapt and own their
own vision and objectives – which will undoubtedly diverge from the original!
Questions to be asked at this stage include:
! What does the group want the Alliance to achieve?
! What does each member organisation want the Alliance to achieve?
! What can each organisation contribute in terms of expertise, effort and resources?
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National level platform
Intermediate level platform
Community level platforms
Country A Country B, C, D
Figure 1: Structure of Learning Alliances at different levels
Deciding who is to be involved in an LA is critical both to the immediate success of sharing the
results of action research and to the overall potential for successful scaling-up. Member
organisations will vary according to the specific local and national conditions. Table 1 below
identifies likely members of a Learning Alliance at national and intermediate (district/municipality)
Table 1: Typical members of a Learning Alliance at national and district level
At national level At district level
- Policy makers - Local government
- Line ministries (Water, Agriculture, Health) - Catchment Councils
- National research institutes - Local representatives of line ministries
- Resource Centres - Local NGOs
- National training institutes - CBOs, Water Users’ Associations
- Financing organisations - Local researchers, trainers and extension
- Donors and INGOs (International Non- workers
Governmental Organisations) - District fora (e.g. Provincial Water Task
- Organised local government (e.g. Association of Team)
Local Government; Federation of Municipalities) - Local private sector
- Organised CBOs (e.g. National Association of - ‘Projects’
Community Based Water Provider Organisations) - Other implementing partners
- National fora (e.g. the National Task Force on - Organised CBOs (e.g. Regional Association
Agriculture or the Water and Sanitation Forum) of Community Based Water Provider
- Relevant private sector Organisations)
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Factors to take into account in the selection of members include:
! ongoing work that is relevant to the LA;
! interest in being involved;
! ability to commit and take decisions;
! ability to provide resources (financial, human);
! potential to take up findings (become a champion);
! ability to block or impede the project (local politicians for example may also be co-opted into the
It can be seen that the identification and selection of members of the LA is a complex process. It
should be based on a thorough assessment process and a clear view of the role that members will
take in further uptake and scaling-up. Table 2 provides an example of stakeholder mapping for a
Learning Alliance being developed by the Multiple Use Systems project (see Section 3 & Annex 1).
Table 2: Example of matrix for mapping stakeholders to be invited to the LA for the Multiple Use
Systems (MUS) project2
Category Stakeholder Role in LA Strength Weakness
Regulation / Ministry of Water Review norms and Capacity to scale Politicised
policy making standards up policies
Ministry of Agriculture Create enabling Capacity to scale Politicised
policies up policies
Innovation National/ local University Test new Strong in content Often in isolation
methodology Overly academic
Government Research Under resourced
Planning Local government Adopt MUS Capacity to adopt Politicised
approach in approach and Under-staffed
planning support uptake
Implementing District council/ line dept. Scale up through Big reach Politicised
of Ministry responsible implementation Continuous Under-staffed
for Domestic Water presence
Private sector actors Scale up through Sustainable Unaccountable
implementation Flexible Profit oriented - no
INGO Scale up through Non-continuity
implementation Reach (temporarily in
Strong capacity district)
Department of irrigation Investments and Strong extension Sectoral bias
extension support officers Lack of flexibility
Dissemination Association of Mobilise other Big reach Little content
/ Advocacy Municipalities district councils Credibility with expertise
More details about this and other projects in which IRC and partners are applying the Learning Alliances approach are
given in Section 3.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 16
Resource Centre Document and Strong capacity Often in isolation
Local University Often in isolation
Service Community Based Manage the Local level Not very
provider (post- Organisation (CBO) in innovation after Relatively well empowered
construction) partnership with district project completion skilled communities
Local private sector Day to day Local level May lack skills
Operation and Flexible Profit driven (no
Maintenance poverty mandate)
2.2. Working at different levels
In order to better focus and tailor the needs of the different actors for multi-actor learning, Groot et
al. (2002) discuss the concept of multiple nested subsystems. For LAs in the water and sanitation
sector we propose to translate these subsystems to the administrative levels of water and sanitation
services; i.e. the national, intermediate and community level.
When setting up LAs, it is important to consider how different levels relate to each other and who is
a member of which platform at which level. Figure 2 illustrates an example, again from the MUS
project. Government institutions at national level should be similar to (if not directly responsible for)
those at district level. This ensures that activities at district level are compatible with what national
government does and that activities at district level can easily be communicated to superiors at
national level. Sometimes the national platform can be active in identifying a pilot district.
Effective communication between platforms at different levels of an Alliance is crucial. In case
several platforms are involved, information flows, in all directions, are critical to ensuring that
ownership of (and responsibility for working with) the findings of pilot activities is assumed by all.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 17
Figure 2: Linkages between district and national level platforms of a Learning Alliance: an example
from the MUS project
2.3. Building blocks for learning alliances
Learning is not a straightforward process in which all are happy to participate. Given the sort of
broad based alliances being targeted, there will undoubtedly be conflicting interests as well as
resistance to change, especially if people find their positions threatened. Honest documenting and
disseminating of findings may not be welcome - people do not like their faults to be exposed or to
have to adapt their working methods. There will always be interests and power configurations,
bringing many risks.
Avoiding (or minimising the impacts of) these risks is what makes the task of process facilitation for
the Alliance absolutely critical. Support from a facilitator is needed for a wide range of activities,
including: identifying and understanding different perspectives; constant checking that common
understanding continues; sharing results and experiences both horizontally and vertically, within the
Alliance and with outsiders; shared experimentation and learning within the boundaries of existing
institutions and policies.
As already mentioned, the central approach used in Learning Alliances is action research, which
refers to the application of research processes to the solving of practical problems in support of and
with the active collaboration of key stakeholders. Extensive debates about participatory approaches
have shown the importance of involving people in the analysis of problems and the design of
solutions; using action as a basis for learning. This creates ownership of the problem and the
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 18
solution, and helps to develop the skills and capacities needed to tackle similar future problems
and/or manage the solution in a sustainable manner.
Without going into the details of different participatory approaches and methodologies the common
factor has been the full participation of people in the processes of learning about their needs,
capabilities and visions, and about the actions required to address them. In many cases this has
meant a focus only on the communities, resulting undoubtedly in some community empowerment
but often at the expense of sidelining the organisations and institutions (such as water service
providers or local representatives of line departments) around those communities.
Increasingly it is felt that intermediate level organisations have a key role to play in supporting
communities in addressing their water-related needs. Therefore there is a need for different external
(i.e. external to the community) stakeholders to participate actively in the process of learning.
Specifically they must learn how they can best fulfil their community support role. The Learning
Alliances approach provides the platform for action research with and between communities and
these external stakeholders.
This means that action research needs to be designed to reflect not only the realities of communities,
but also those of external support agencies. For example:
! Working within planning cycles (project cycles). This means developing a structure of joint
problem identification, solution identification, action, reflection, lesson learning,
identification/modification of new solutions, etc. that is, as much as possible, linked with the
planning approaches commonly used by the involved organisations.
! Developing capacity to learn and manage adaptively. This means developing capacities to
work in a new, more flexible way. Essentially it means extending the empowering effects of
participatory approaches to intermediate level actors. A key hypothesis of the LA approach is
that blue prints to common developmental problems do not exist. As a result capacity has to be
developed to manage adaptively, i.e to work in cycles of hypothesis development, information
collection and analysis, action, further analysis and reflection and the development of new
Process documentation is about capturing change processes in a way that helps others to understand
and adopt them – hence leading to scaling up. Documenting the process (as well as the results) of the
action research is critical to scaling up because we need to know how things were done; what
worked, but also what didn’t? What were the blockages and how were they overcome? Change is
often frustrated by political and economic interests, by tradition, by attitudes e.g. by conservatism
and resistance. Capturing, or recording, the struggle over interests, resistance and direct or indirect
protest is good: for learning, revealing agendas, encouraging struggle and for adaptive management.
In addition, the expected outcomes or impacts of a Learning Alliance are often intangible, such as
changes in attitude, behaviour and practice of key stakeholders or changes in paradigms for water
and sanitation development. Process documentation is also a tool to monitor and evaluate these more
! Process documentation is a more systematic way to enhance the informal recording of events by
the personal “radar” that many people use during complex programmes.
! Process documentation allows those most closely involved to step back far enough to be able to
reflect on trends, patterns, opportunities and warning signs so that corrective action can be taken
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 19
if and when needed. This also helps programme staff to step back from the fight over good
! Process documentation specifically looks at (local) context, at history, at patterns. It
acknowledges that something was going on before the start of the project that may make impact
upon or hold relevance for the current process.
! Process documentation is like keeping a diary. It allows daily reflection on events. Over time a
diary will reveal recurring themes and patterns.
! Process documentation is not another project tool – it aims specifically at getting interesting and
exciting information to other groups as quickly as possible. It provides programme staff with a
bit more journalism and a bit less academic output.
! Process documentation helps to create and maintain political support; shows that things are
happening and that people are continuing to interact.
For good analysis and reflection, process documentation needs a theory of change – owned by all
stakeholders or by a programme team. Without a shared conceptual starting point there is nothing to
reflect on, nothing to perceive as changing. Most programmes have implicit theories and
assumptions which need to be made explicit.
Process documentation can be done by “insiders” (all stakeholders as members of a learning
alliance) because their involvement in documentation stimulates their reflection and thus, learning.
Alternatively, independent “outsiders” (such as journalists, film makers) can be involved, because
they are in a “safer” position to objectively observe the process and to express criticism. However,
one should be aware that “outsiders” can sometimes put too much of their own reflection and
experience into the outputs and can go completely off track.
A number of organisations have developed methodologies and tools for process documentation and
monitoring of qualitative change. A good resource document is the manual on Outcome Mapping,
developed by IDRC (International Development Research Institute) (IDRC, 2004). This provides a
complete overview of building learning and reflecting into development programmes. Simple tools
can be derived from this and other frameworks.
Steps that IRC follows on process documentation in its programmes include (See Table 3 and Table
! Capturing the change process;
! Reflecting on processes and analyzing (find the recurrent patterns and trends);
! Organising the information in specific formats for specific groups;
! Disseminating quickly enough to be most useful.
Table 3: example of a country work plan for process documentation
Country Work Plan
Capturing Capturing Organising/filing Analysis Outputs/editing Channels
What How/who How/Who When/who How/who
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Table 4: example of a project plan for process documentation for the Basic Urban Services initiative –
(see Section 3)
Documentation matrix from BUS (Basic Urban Services) initiative
What (process) What (is documented) Who to collect? How to document?
Roles played, Roles and responsibilities of Anchoring SWOT (Strengths,
expectations created different stakeholders at the start Institute (AI) Weakness, Opportunities,
(and fulfilled) and Trends) analysis
Review of changes in roles and Local
responsibilities at the end of the Consultants Participatory assessment
different CBO/NGOs Formal/informal interviews
stakeholders Identified needs and expectations of
Other Stakeholder focus group
stakeholders and consultation meetings
Obstacles to fulfilling expectations such as private
Expectations that were fulfilled meetings, field visits, etc
Documentation matrix from BUS initiative
Tools When Who to Potential End Product Audience
SWOT tool Ongoing AI Case studies or brief Other municipalities
3 process, in case examples for
QPA (Quantified Local consultant National and local
particular at key illustrating approach in
Participatory level policy makers
meetings and BUS a larger case study
after key events implementation write up of BUS Donor agencies
Interview protocol team experience Local CBOs/NGOs
Facilitated Local Advocacy materials for
stakeholder municipalities stakeholder
Dissemination and sharing
Traditionally dissemination was done after a research project had come to its conclusion. Learning
and action research programmes however, are not traditional scientific research. The researchers are
just one of many stakeholder groups in a Learning Alliance. Furthermore, the cycle of research-
reflection-action is much shorter. This means that results or findings are more quickly available even
if they are temporary. It also means that findings do not have to be - and should not be - phrased in
traditional scientific language.
Quantified Participatory Assessment is a methodology that collects qualitative information from rapid village
assessments and converts some of this information into quantitative form. The details about this methodology are outside
the scope of this paper, but more information can be found in (James 2002).
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Dissemination in learning and action research programmes is context specific. The aim is not to
bring the results to a global website but back into the learning process. The primary target audience,
therefore, is the stakeholders participating in the learning programme. Additionally, there will be a
need for quick advocacy-type messages to a wider group – see Box 1 for key lessons on
In learning and action research programmes feedback is important: feedback in the Learning
Alliances, from one stakeholder group to another; feedback after bits of research or experiments;
feedback from one level of learning (district) to another (national). What has been learned and
documented has to be fed back into the learning process and that is the most important dissemination
In addition, advocacy will always remain an important function: the learning process must sell itself
to be credible and respected by the wider group of stakeholders – those who are not participating
directly in the learning programme.
New electronic equipment is very useful in short cycles of dissemination: Digital cameras, digital
video, and audio recording equipment. And computers have relatively easy software programmes for
editing (video and photo) and making presentations. Local media will also be needed to disseminate
Box 1: key lessons for dissemination in learning programmes
Quick: the village walk/meeting/case study is documented today, analysed and edited tomorrow and shared
the day after tomorrow. Video bites, photo books, case studies, observation reports, interview reports are the
products. But they need to fit into local methods and media of sharing information because these processes
are country based.
Dirty: the aim is to stimulate reflection, so the narrative and the stories of the makers (project team, one
stakeholder group to another) are more important than the quality of the image.
With professional support: not for good technical results but for support in observing with distance.
Professionals are outsiders; they know how to step out of the process and that is where they can help.
Professionals can also be used to make end products: A video film, an article, website structure, content
Time for processing, editing, writing etc.: If we acknowledge that documentation and dissemination are
crucial in the learning process, than explicit time has to be made available for doing it – if necessary, with
The stakeholders in the learning alliance are the most important target group: Reporting to each other –
stakeholder to stakeholder – country team to country team – district team to national team – communities to
The quick and dirty can feed afterwards into more glossy presentations, websites, photo books, etc. to
convince national policy makers and donors not directly participating in the learning programme.
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Section 3. Experiences of applying the LA approach and concept
In recent years IRC, along with several partners has been, and remains, involved in projects and
programmes that include many of the components now brought together as a Learning Alliance.
Several of these are presented very briefly in table 5, and in more detail in Annex 1. They apply the
basic concepts of Learning Alliances in different thematic areas and in combination with different
processes, such as technology transfer, stakeholder dialogues and action research. More recently,
three of these projects have been created from the outset with the learning alliance model
specifically in mind. The remainder of this section briefly summarizes some of the main lessons
learned from these projects, with greater detail appearing in Annex 1.
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Table 5: Ongoing and ended project of IRC and partners in which elements of a Learning Alliance approach were present
Project Name Where When Main activities Elements of LA
Technology Transfer Colombia 1989-1996 • Introduction of multi-stage filtration technology to • Interdisciplinary project team hosted in CINARA
Programme in Water Colombia • Inter-Institutional regional working groups (Gov
Supply Treatment in • Training of staff in introduction and use of universities, private sector)
Colombia (TRANSCOL) technology • Piloting in each region (with IRWGs)
• Support to resource centre (CINARA) • Did not have: an explicit national government lev
development although contacts were made at national level
• Introduction of community-supported water
surveillance and control
Women, Wellbeing, India, 2003 – • Action research on the safe re-use of night-soil and • Establishment of platforms at national, regional a
Work, Waste and Bangladesh, ongoing reduction of unsafe hygiene practices level.
Sanitation (4Ws) Sri-Lanka • Introduction of gender and poverty sensitive • Project led by consortium of researchers and NG
participatory approaches in peri-urban sanitation platforms in cluded wider range of government, N
• Creating employment for women as latrine masons and private sector stakeholders
and in solid-waste collection and recycling
Euro-Mediterranean Jordan, 2003 - • Stakeholder dialogue for improved local level • Establishment of platforms at national, intermedi
Participatory Water Palestine, ongoing water governance local level
Resource Scenarios Egypt • Development of range of participatory planning • 3 country, and one regional facilitation teams wi
(EMPOWRS) tools to support improved development and institutional, facilitation and documentation skill
management of water services and resources • Explicit mandate to work on improved vertical a
horizontal information flows between key stakeh
• Broad district level coalitions of NGOs, CBOs, r
Basic Urban Services Burkina- 2003 - • Developing innovative processes and technologies • Somewhere between multi-stakeholder platforms
(BUS) – Part of UN- Faso, Sri- ongoing for the provision of sustainable basic urban water • Anchoring institutes in each country act as facilit
HABITAT sustainable Lanka and sanitation services to the urban poor. engine for sustainability and continuity.
cities programme • Facilitation of broad groups of partners within ci
• Use of pilot sites to test innovative approaches w
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Project Name Where When Main activities Elements of LA
Multiple Use Systems Zimbabwe, 2004 - • Developing tools, models and guidelines for the • Project is just starting but aims to use an explicit
(MUS) South-Africa, ongoing development of multiple-use (domestic and approach to dealing with how to scale-up innova
Ethiopia, productive) water services in rural areas the project
Bolivia, • A framework of key steps to take in establishing
Colombia, alliance has been developed (see annex 2)
India, Nepal, • Action research will be carried out in pilot comm
Thailand district level MUS platforms
Scaling-up community Ethiopia 2004 - • Adopting a learning approach to developing • LA platforms at national, regional, and district le
management ongoing models for external support to community • An explicit policy of action research and short cy
managed rural water supply schemes. dissemination – with 5 months learning followed
month reflection and dissemination
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 25
3.1. Lessons learnt from existing programmes on the Learning Alliances
It is not the technology that is important, it is the framework to guide the process
Technological innovations or developmental methodologies that are not scaled up have limited
impact in improving water and sanitation services for the poorest. Often the failure to go to scale is
related to how the innovation is introduced. There is little chance of success if an innovation deemed
to have ‘worked’ in one context is transplanted en-bloc to another, totally different one. This simply
sees the technology or methodology as the solution to a problem but ignores the crucial needs of an
enabling environment to support it and the time to create local knowledge on how to use it. It is the
process of creating this enabling environment through shared learning among different stakeholders
that will, in time, increase the impact of interventions in the sector.
Learning Alliances take time and resources
The process of making a handful of stakeholders interested in a concept, then inviting several other
stakeholders to initiate a process and then keeping the process going whilst building the coalition of
stakeholders, takes time and resources. It is a process that cannot be short-circuited. Knowledge is
the sum of what individuals and groups of people can do, and it can only be created by learning and
doing. No course or cascade of courses can alone create new knowledge. People have to try
something, adapt it and themselves until it works, and then continue to adapt as the world changes.
Learning Alliances need an engine
Successful Learning Alliances are those that emerge from existing systems and processes within a
country. in the countries. If they are created solely because an outsider thinks they are a good idea,
they are likely to fail. However, they do need champions: stakeholders with the energy, vision and
resources to sell the original idea and then keep driving forward the process of innovation and
subsequent scaling-up. Ideally these champions should be people for whom the work of the learning
alliance is part of their everyday job, and for whom the success of the LA will also bring personal
Learning, not planning, is the main focus of Learning Alliances – but space must be created for
In practice, during the implementation of a learning alliance, most of the meetings and activities will
focus on issues of planning, negotiation and implementation rather than on learning. But it is critical
to overall success that space (intellectual and financial) is created to enable learning throughout the
process. This means taking time to step back and review the process. It requires honesty and the
space to be honest. Failures must be brought into the open and discussed openly. Making the
learning component the focus of the processes requires good facilitators and committed stakeholders.
Documentation, reporting and dissemination need a specific budget and time allocation throughout
Usually a project or programme takes 2-5 years to complete, reports are compiled and a final
workshop for “dissemination” terminates the process. In a Learning Alliance, the learning is done
throughout the process, not at the end. For this to happen, documentation, reporting and
dissemination should be properly allowed for and should ideally have specific human resources
allocated to them. When documentation is everyone’s business it quickly becomes no-one’s!
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 26
Section 4. Next steps and leading questions
The LA approach is relatively new to the water and sanitation sector. The experiences that do
exist are at an early stage and have yet to be properly documented. Nonetheless, it is already
possible to identify a number of issues that seem to be of particular importance and deserving
of special attention in the future.
Much of the innovation that is carried out in the water sector does not revolve around new (in
the sense of ‘never seen before’) technologies or approaches. Indeed it is arguable that
Learning Alliances are not primarily appropriate for the sort of research that leads to absolutely
new devices or ideas. LAs are better suited to situations where ideas and approaches that have
been tried and found promising in one country or context are to be transported elsewhere.
Where we know what the innovation is but not how best to apply it in a new context or
location. The objective then is to pick and mix from existing ideas, tools and hardware to create
locally valid approaches.
In this context, key questions for the learning alliance approach revolve around the how of
introducing new information (books, reports, institutional models) or devices (pumps,
irrigation technologies) and guiding the transformation of these initially alien ideas and objects
into local knowledge. Which systems and structures facilitate the learning process? These
questions lie at the heart of the learning alliance approach.
Facilitation is crucial for Learning Alliances – but who should facilitate?
Learning Alliances require skilled facilitators. But who should lead this facilitation process?
Can the core members of the learning alliance also be its facilitators or do the inherent conflicts
of interest mean that this task must be handed to someone else? Or should there be a mix in the
facilitation team between advocates and true facilitators? An external facilitator with a good
knowledge of the country context might be more appropriate for dealing with power struggles
and conflicting interests. However, an internal advocate/facilitator may better provide the drive
necessary to overcome resistance to change, and in the future will be there to continue as
champion of the approach and part of the engine necessary to drive the scaling-up process.
Learning Alliances need an engine but many potentially important stakeholders are
currently disempowered – how can they be involved in the effort to gain capacity?
LAs will only work with committed stakeholders but, in a period when the processes of
decentralisation and capacity building are in their infancy in many developing countries,
uncertainty and fear of change can make it difficult to find the right people in the institutions of
national and local government. Since capacity building is central to LA development these
shortfalls, particularly at intermediate level, can be a real threat to progress. For the present at
least, empowered and dynamic stakeholders are more often to be found in NGOs, CBOs and
donor project teams.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 27
Are learning alliances possible under current modes of project management, delivery and
Much current development thinking is focussed almost exclusively on outputs and numerical
targets, with only cursory and formulaic attention given to either quality or sustainability. This
problem starts with the MDGs. For water and sanitation they are particularly problematic. As
well as being expressed in purely numerical terms they are effectively disconnected from any
poverty target. Implementing agencies, particularly external ones, aggravate the difficulties
with their adherence to short term project approaches that limit risk and concentrate on
input/output ratios. By and large they are chronically shy of becoming involved in anything
that looks like an open ended commitment.
Can learning alliances work in a world of output focus, short term goals, and log-frames? Can
project approaches be adapted to suit programmatic and long term thinking?
The answer to the first question is no, and implies a need for advocacy for funding of more
enlightened approaches that take into account the quality of processes. To the second question
there is no immediately obvious answer but it is important that one is sought in the coming
Overcoming barriers to vertical and horizontal integration – do the benefits outweigh the
In almost every sector, in developing and developed countries, there is a call for more/better
integration. Moves in that direction are impeded partly by the high costs of communication and
partly by the need for boundaries to any process. But there are other barriers to progress,
arising from the nature of political power, particularly within centralised nation-states. One of
the key questions for development generally is to what extent a combination of increased
democratisation and decentralisation on the one hand and the IT revolution on the other, will
provide the opportunity for genuinely decentralised, demand led and integrated service delivery
and resource management.
For now it has to be assumed that progress can be made and in that sense the LA approach
should be seen as part of the how of bringing about change. Nonetheless, if we are to learn
from the lessons of past work on participatory approaches, great care must continue to be
exercised in evaluating (and taking seriously) the costs as well as the benefits of greater
What is needed in an enabling environment for Learning Alliances?
Learning alliances have evolved from the tradition of bottom-up, empowerment, action-
research. In many ways they seek to extend the undoubted benefits of the empowerment that
these approaches have brought to communities and other local level stakeholders through those
working at intermediate and national levels. Those experiences have shown that several
criteria will be key to making the LA model work effectively. They include: a link between
policy, legislation and behaviour; a movement towards decentralisation; a sympathy to
empowering people; an acceptance of bottom up and adaptive planning and management.
Codifying the factors that are essential to the effective operation of LAs will be an important
part of future work.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 28
We expect to take further steps in the development of the LA concepts during the symposium
on ‘Learning Alliances for scaling up innovative approaches in the Water and Sanitation
sector’ to be held in Delft, the Netherlands, from 6-10 June 2005. The symposium will bring
together practitioners and researchers from different sectors involved and/or interested in:
! practical experiences with scaling up innovative approaches through Learning Alliances;
! concepts and theory on Learning Alliances and their application in the water and sanitation
! tools and methodologies for working through Learning Alliances.
With the papers and outcomes of the symposium, this working paper will be developed into a
document for publication.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 29
Section 5. References, bibliography and further reading
5.1. Books, manuals, articles and papers
Leeuwis, C. and R. Pyburn (2002a) (eds.) Wheelbarrows full of frogs; social learning in rural
resource management. Koninklijke Van Gorcum; Assen, the Netherlands
The central theme of this book is “social learning” for rural resource management. It provides
conceptual insights and practical guidelines for planning and implementing development
interventions, through a joint learning approach. It contains experiences from natural resources
management, institutional development, agriculture and water and sanitation.
Lundy, M. 2004. Learning alliances with development partners: A framework for outscaling
research results. In: Pachico, D. (ed.). Scaling up and out: Achieving widespread impact
through agricultural research. Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), Cali,
This book chapter describes the CIAT approach to Learning Alliances for outscaling research
results. It provides also useful theoretical underpinning to the concept of Learning Alliances.
Restrepo-Tarquino, I. (2001) Team learning projects as a strategy to contribute to the
sustainability of water supply and sanitation services. PhD thesis, School of Civil Engineering,
University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom
This thesis describes and analyses the Team Learning Project (TLP) approach developed and
followed by CINARA in a number of projects with partners. It shows how TLPs can link
research and development at any level and thus prove to be a useful tool for strengthening the
capacities of institutions and communities involved in WASH projects.
Röling, N. (1986) Extension Science: Increasingly Preoccupied with Knowledge Systems.
Sociologia Ruralis, 25, 3/4 1985, 269-290.
This paper gives useful insight in the history of research, extension and uptake off innovations
in the agricultural sector, and the lessons learnt. It shows the importance of thinking in terms of
knowledge systems. Much can be learnt from analogies with the agricultural sector. However,
one needs to remember that there are major differences between that sector and the water and
sanitation sector, especially with respect to the role of (local) government. The paper also does
not give practical indications for how to develop knowledge systems. Probably, this is one of
the most accessible and least abstract papers written on knowledge systems.
Visscher, J.T. (ed.) (1997) Technology Transfer in the Water Supply and Sanitation Sector: a
Learning Experience from Colombia. CINARA – IRC Technical Paper Series 32, the Hague,
This book argues that to enhance sustainability of interventions in the water and sanitation
sector, a change is needed from technology transfer to technology sharing, through a joint
learning approach. It provides the example of the TRANSCOL (Technology Transfer
Programme in Water Supply Treatment in Colombia), in which CINARA (Instituto de
Investigación y Desarrollo en Agua Potable, Saneaminto Básico y Conservación del Recurso
Hídrico) worked on scaling up a specific innovation (multi-stage filtration) within Colombia
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 30
and to neighbouring Andean countries. It gives both a theoretical review of approaches to
technology transfer and sharing as well as the practical experiences of the programme.
Centre for Development of Training and Learning: action learning
"Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." This website
presents theories about learning and teaching
International Development Research Centre – Outcome Mapping
This website gives an introduction to outcome mapping as a particular form of process
documentation. It contains various on-line tools and sheets for that purpose as well as links to
other reference material.
IRC Resource Centre Development programme
This website gives an overview of the IRC Resource Centre Development programme. It
provides information about the rationale for Resource Centres and their role in the water and
sanitation sector. In addition, it gives regular updated of activities of this programme between
IRC and its partner RCs in different countries.
Royal Tropical Institute - RAAKS
This website provides a broad collection of information about the RAAKS methodology and its
practical application in a wide range of sectors. It provides also linkages to more resource
The Theory into Practice database
This database contains brief summaries of 50 major theories of learning and instruction. These
theories can also be accessed by learning domains and concepts. Example: Double Loop
Learning. There are four basic steps in the action theory learning process: (1) discovery of
espoused and theory-in-use, (2) invention of new meanings, (3) production of new actions, and
(4) generalization of results. Double loop learning involves applying each of these steps to
itself. In double loop learning, assumptions underlying current views are questioned and
hypotheses about behaviour tested publicly. The end result of double loop learning should be
increased effectiveness in decision-making and better acceptance of failures and mistakes.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 31
Alberts, J.H and J.J. van der Zee (2004) A multi sectoral approach to sustainable rural water supply: the
role of the rope handpump in Nicaragua. In: Moriarty, P., Butterworth, J. and B. van Koppen (eds.)
(2004) Beyond Domestic; Case studies on poverty and productive uses of water at the household level.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, Delft, the Netherlands. Technical Paper Series 41.
Batchelor, C. and P. Moriarty (forthcoming) Using Water Resources Assessments within the
EMPOWERS IWRM planning cycle. EMPOWERS Working Paper 5.
Dick, B. (2002) Action research: action and research. Paper prepared for the seminar "Doing good
action research". Southern Cross University, Australia
EC (2004) Aid Delivery Methods. Volume 1: Project Cycle Management. Brussels, Belgium.
EMPOWERS (2004) www.empowers.info
Engel, P. (1995) Facilitating innovation: an action-oriented approach and participatory methodology
to improve innovative social practice in agriculture. PhD-thesis. Wageningen University, Wageningen,
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IRC (2004a) Overview RCD 18 countries programme http://www.irc.nl/page/3381
IRC (2004b) UN-Habitat-SCP- Basic Urban Services http://www.irc.nl/page/7838
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Groot, A., van Dijk, N., Jiggings, J. and M. Maarleveld (2002) Three challenges in the facilitation of
system-wide change. In: Leeuwis, C. and R. Pyburn (2002) Wheelbarrows full of frogs; social learning
in rural resource management. Koninklijke Van Gorcum; Assen, the Netherlands
James, A.J. (2001) Enhancing the “Assessment” in Participatory Assessments. In: IFAD, ANGOC and
IIRR (2001) Enhancing Ownership and Sustainability: A resource book on participation. International
Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural
Development (ANGOC) and International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), Part 3.
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R. Pyburn (2002) Wheelbarrows full of frogs; social learning in rural resource management.
Koninklijke Van Gorcum; Assen, the Netherlands
Lundy and Ashby (2004) Building multi-stakeholder innovation systems through learning alliances.
ILAC Brief 8.
Moriarty, P. and C. Batchelor (forthcoming). The EMPOWERS Participatory Planning Cycle for
Integrated Water Resource Management. EMPOWERS working paper No. 3
Moriarty, P. B., Batchelor, C. H., Smits, S. J., Pollard, S., Butterworth, J. A., Reddy, G. V., Renuka, B.,
James, A. J. and Malla Reddy, Y. V. 2004. Resources, Infrastructure, Demands and Entitlements
(RIDe): a framework for holistic and problem-focussed water resources assessments. WHIRL Project
Working Paper 10. NRI, Chatham
Penning de Vries, F., van Koppen, B. Mintesinot, B., Yoder, B., Scott, C., Boelee, E., Butterworth, J.,
Moriarty, P. and S. Ruaysoongnern (2004) Inception Report for Project CPWF-28: Models for
Implementing Multiple-use Systems for Enhanced Land and Water Productivity, Rural Livelihoods and
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(2004) Beyond Domestic; Case studies on poverty and productive uses of water at the household level.
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Shah, Tushaar; Alam, M.: Kumar, Dinesh; Nagar, R. K. ; and Singh, Mahendra. (2000) Pedaling out of
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WELL (2004) http://www.lboro.ac.uk/well/
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 33
Section 6. Annexes
Annex 1 – IRC project experience with Learning Alliances
Technology Transfer Programme in Water Supply Treatment in Colombia
TRANSCOL (Technology Transfer Programme in Water Supply Treatment in Colombia) was
implemented between 1989 and 1996. The original objectives of the programme were:
! The introduction of the Multi-Stage Filtration (MSF) technology in different regions of
! Training of staff in the introduction and use of this technology
! The promotion of working groups in each region to serve as multipliers
! Support to the development of CINARA (Instituto de Investigación y Desarrollo en Agua
Potable, Saneamiento Básico y Conservación del Recurso Hídrico) as a sector resource
centre in Colombia
! The introduction and evaluation of community-supported water surveillance and control
Approach and structure of the learning model
The main components of the approach were
! The development of an interdisciplinary team in Cinara to facilitate the activities in the
! The introduction of the project in the regions and to leading institutions and the regional
governments so as to get political and institutional commitment
! The organisation of Inter-Institutional Regional Working Groups (IRWGs) comprising
government institutions, universities and sometimes private sector organizations in the
eight participating regions
! The development of two demonstration projects in each region
The IRWGs were to promote inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional teamwork and strengthen
the capacity of (especially intermediate level) organisations in the MSF technology and
participatory approaches. This was also meant to build the capacity of staff of the local
authorities so that they would be able to fulfil a multiplier role. The demonstration projects
were established to experiment with the technology and create the space for participation and
collaboration between the institutions and the communities. This allowed for checking the
technology against practical problems, converting the demonstration projects into learning
projects (Quiroga et al., 1997).
Impact and lessons learnt
! The IRWGs proved to be an effective mechanism to create commitment among staff of
local authorities and other relevant agencies to the new technology and approach and to
create an environment for its upscaling.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 34
! The learning projects proved to be a useful vehicle for capacity building amongst staff of
the local authorities, other agencies and community members, in the planning,
implementation and use of the technology.
! To date almost all MSF plants built under the programme are managed by water
committees in the community and are still functioning
! The approach has lead to a successful replication of the technology and methodology. In
December 1997 a total of 50 MSF plants had already been built in Colombia (Visscher,
! The approach of learning projects has been developed and further consolidated into the
Team Learning Project (TLP) methodology. Also, similar projects with the water utility of
the city of Cali (EMCALI) have contributed to the consolidation of the methodology. An
overview and discussion of TLPs can be found in Restrepo-Tarquino (2001).
! TRANSCOL provided the opportunity and the resources for CINARA to grow as a team,
experiment with the technology and the methodology and build up its information and
documentation centre. This contributed very much to the development of CINARA as a
sector resource centre recognised nationally and further afield – the organisation is already
working in other countries in the region.
! Leading the programme with support from IRC allowed CINARA to develop its skills in
research, training and facilitation, but above all to build up a network with communities
and local authorities as well as with a number of national level stakeholders and
The TRANSCOL programme had many of the characteristics of a Learning Alliance. The
shared interest was the scaling-up of MSF technology in Colombia. CINARA with its advisors,
and in close collaboration with IRC, was the platform with decision making authority over the
programme. They worked in collaboration with national institutions that co-financed the
learning projects. For each of the regions CINARA established a team of two facilitators, one
with a technical and the other with a socio-economic background. These teams facilitated the
second level platform that was established in each region and made up of the different
institutions involved in water supply in the region (policy, regulation, research, training and
implementation). The teams together with key staff from the regional institutions also
facilitated the third level platforms at the community level in each of the 18 participating
communities. In general the latter comprised the water committees extended with interested
A very important factor in the success of the programme was the ability to adjust the strategy
and the implementation schedule. Initially the programme was formulated with a three year
term but, in close consultation with the DGIS (Directorate General for International
Cooperation of the Netherlands Government), the leading funding organization, it was agreed
to take a much more flexible approach. This gave time to search for and locate cheaper local
resources for the construction of water systems, in turn leading to DGIS agreement to redirect
the funds originally earmarked for construction to training and facilitation, allowing a much
longer intervention by the teams from CINARA.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 35
Women, Wellbeing, Work, Waste and Sanitation (4Ws) - Action research on alternative
strategies of environmental sanitation and waste management for improved health and
socio-economic development in peri-urban coastal communities in south Asia
Reuse of nightsoil and organic domestic waste in agriculture is an accepted and common
practice in South-east Asia. This is, however, not the case in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka
where waste is still mainly deposited on public land and in water courses. The potential to
collect, recycle and reuse biologically degradable domestic wastes and reuse them in
agriculture remains to be widely explored. Access to proper sanitation is low and sanitation
programmes focus on containment and dumping and not recycling. Moreover, few peri-urban
sanitation programmes use participatory approaches that are gender and poverty sensitive and
create employment for women as latrine masons and in solid waste collection and recycling.
In this research, five universities and five NGOs from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, The
Netherlands and Finland cooperate with Local Government in Action Research on
Environmental sanitation in six peri-urban coastal settlements. The research has and will
continue to compare the cost-effectiveness of existing programmes with that of innovative
approaches that address the above mentioned gaps. More specifically, they will compare the
cost-effectiveness of existing sanitation programmes and innovative approaches in local pilot
interventions. The project has and will continue to assess and document the existing
approaches, conditions and practices in six project areas and then introduce alternative ways to
contain and recycle human excreta and domestic solid waste for rural-urban horticulture in
three of these areas. No new interventions have taken place in the other areas, which serve as
! Measure the cost-effectiveness of technically, socio-economically and environmentally
innovative and replicable approaches to excreta and solid waste management in low income
peri-urban settlements in a part of Asia that has lagged behind in sanitation
! Measurably improve sanitation conditions and practices in six pilot areas
! Scale up the tested approaches through integration of lessons learned in sanitation policies
and implementation programmes of Local and State Governments
! Strengthen interdisciplinary cooperation and implementation skills of the participating
research and civic society institutions through knowledge exchange, cross-regional training
and joint documentation of studies, interventions and results.
Structure of the learning model
The 4Ws partnership approach is an innovative approach which includes close collaboration of
NGOs and Universities. At this stage the platforms at national, regional and village level are
starting to be established. As this project is in the middle of its project cycle less can be stated
regarding the ultimate learning model structures. As it stands currently, in the pilot
communities, organisation and mobilisation activities were undertaken. All NGOs met with the
local authorities to establish cooperation. In the pilot area in Bangladesh, a local NGO,
Community Development Centre (CDC) is being involved. In Kerala, the NGO will work
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 36
through a local self help group. In Sri Lanka, the work will be done jointly by a local NGO, the
Integrated Health and Environmental Organization, and three local group leaders.
The NGOs have had informal community meetings with local NGOs or CBOs, Area
Development Association and Self-Help Groups, and formal meetings with the local
authorities. In Bangladesh, A Project Management Committee has been formed, consisting of
municipal functionaries (administration, health, and engineering) and CDC. Instead of the
planned Voluntary Group, an Advisory Committee was formed. It has 23 members,
representing a wide range of local expertise and leadership. One third of the members are
female as is the Chair. In Sri Lanka, a regional and community-level advisory committee were
established. The regional committee comprises functionaries from the local government,
Ministry of Health and the local NGO. So far they have met four times and twice respectively.
Mobilisation has resulted in the formation of fifteen small neighbourhood groups which play
an integral role in the implementation activities
In September 2004, a meeting took place with the entrepreneurs of the local sanitary market in
the Bangladesh pilot area, to establish a vending place for sanitary latrine parts. It was further
agreed that the market will also employ local women. Technical and social workshops for
orientation about the project took place in June in Alleppey, Kerala and on 19-20 November
2004 in Morrelganj, Bangladesh. In Sri Lanka, a technical and social workshop was held at two
levels: first for the members of the Regional advisory committee and secondly for the
identified key representatives of the Karukpone community.
By the end of this year a list of all the lessons learnt will be developed and reviewed. However
in the meanwhile we hope that this background information has given the reader some
indication of the work currently being undertaken and its larger role in building and sustaining
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 37
EMPOWERS Partnership: a stakeholder dialogue for improved local water governance4
Aim and approach
The EMPOWERS5 Partnership is active in Jordan, Palestine and Egypt. It is facilitated and
implemented by thirteen6 organizations who have agreed to work together in a series of
regional and national partnerships.
The aim of EMPOWERS is to improve water governance and long-term access to water by
populations who currently experience scarcity and insecurity. It will do this through the
! Increasing the influence of different stakeholders, including end users, civil society and
local government, on the planning and decision-making process for the use and
management of scarce water resources. This will ensure that, at national and intermediate
levels, planning and decision-making for IWRM will be better informed by local realities,
leading to policy frameworks that support decision-making at lower levels.
! Enhancing vertical and horizontal linkages and information flows. Such linkages and
flows between government agencies, local communities and others require that people and
their organizations work together at different levels of influence and decision making.
! Demonstrating its approach through pilot projects. Through these pilots EMPOWERS will
develop and test improved tools and approaches to planning in a hands-on learning process.
In addition, it will build capacity, ownership and commitment at community and local
government level, and bring the viewpoints of all those involved towards a shared vision
and a common understanding of IWRM.
! Documenting the learning process. Documents and supportive videos describe the manner
in which EMPOWERS has approached the issues at stake in the three countries, including
lessons learned, bottlenecks, pitfalls, and how these have been resolved.
! Sharing valuable information and knowledge at regional level. In addition to approaches at
the country level EMPOWERS will assume a role in regional networks, focusing on the
wise use and management of local water resources in the Mediterranean Region.
Structure of the learning model
The EMPOWERS Partnership approach adopts something close to a pure learning alliance
model to scale up the innovative approaches to developing IWRM frameworks and
participatory water governance at local level.
This section is based on information that can be found on EMPOWERS (2004).
EMPOWERS is initially funded by the European Commission in the framework of the MEDA Water
programme, CARE International, IRC and PSO, a Netherlands organization for capacity building in developing
Ministry of Agriculture - Water Department, Inter-Islamic Network on Water Resources Development and
Management, and CARE Jordan (Jordan); Palestine Hydrological Group, Union of Agricultural Work
Committees, and CARE West Bank/Gaza (Palestine); Development Research Technology & Planning Centre at
Cairo University, Social Planning, Analysis and Administration Consultants, National Water Research Centre of
the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, Egyptian Water Partnership and CARE Egypt (Egypt); IRC (the
Netherlands); and CARE International (USA, UK and NL).
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 38
Platforms at regional, national, district/governorate and village level have been created and are
supported and facilitated by multidisciplinary regional and national teams. The stakeholders
involved include: end-users (both women and men) in nine selected pilot communities, NGOs,
CBOs, government institutions (covering water, irrigation, local government, agriculture,
health and environment) and relevant private sector agencies. The national and district
processes are facilitated by three to four person teams consisting of national NGO,
government, and university partners.
At national level a Steering Committee including line ministries and national research institutes
ensures that the approaches being piloted meet national norms and expectations and ensures
that results are fed into national policy.
! Setting up teams and country partnerships is time consuming and requires great care and
thought. Issues to consider in setting up the teams and partnerships include:
o The need to have, in each team, a set of different skills (technical, facilitation,
o The need to link to existing networks and initiatives.
o The need to identify national level partner(s) with the potential to become champions of
the approaches developed and ensure their being taken to scale
! There is a strong need to develop, particularly at intermediate level, a learning environment
which encourages local level experimentation and lesson learning. Again, this is time
consuming and requires great care – people used to implementing orders from above can be
intimidated by the freedom of being asked to innovate.
! Capacity building of partners at all levels is needed in order to develop interest and
commitment to the process, and to provide the skills needed to innovate effectively.
! Identifying a long term institutional home for the capacity created, and particularly the
capacity to facilitate the planning processes being developed, is crucial to longer term
! Breaking down barriers between sectors and levels by facilitating dialogue and information
sharing is an empowering process that has led to great excitement in the districts,
governorates and villages where the approach is being piloted.
! Involving national government has been essential in making local government and line
ministries feel comfortable with innovating and trying new approaches.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 39
The BUS initiative: between multi-level stakeholder platforms and learning alliances in
an urban environment7
The BUS initiative is one of the components within the UN-HABITAT (United Nations
Human Settlements Programme) Sustainable Cities Programme (SCP). It aims to support local
governments and their partners in the provision of sustainable basic water and sanitation
services to the urban poor. Specific attention will be given to innovative processes of
participatory planning for these services and appropriate technologies.
Approach and structure of learning
The three components of the approach are:
! Demonstration projects. These are the testing grounds for the BUS approach. Methods for
stakeholder participation in planning and appropriate technologies which will be subject to
testing and learning. Currently demonstration projects are carried out in neighbourhoods of
Bobo Dioulasso (Burkina Faso) and Colombo (Sri Lanka). At those sites, local level (in
this case not a district, but a neighbourhood) multi- stakeholder platforms have been set up
for planning basic urban services.
! Information and Documentation Strategy. This will ensure the production of appropriate
capacity building tools, the adequate documentation of the participatory process undertaken
as well as lessons learned from the BUS approach, regular exchange of ideas and the
promotion of alternative channels for information exchange.
! Regional Anchoring Strategy. So-called Anchoring Institutes (AIs) play a key-role in the
initiative. In the first place these form the connection between local activities and global
support of SCP. Secondly, they play a role in facilitating the process at local level. Thirdly,
they will ensure the necessary capacity for sustainability and continuity. The anchoring
strategy consists of strengthening regional and national capacity building organisations in
their role as information clearing houses, developing BUS-focused training activities and
programmes, and facilitating advocacy efforts. The figure below presents a diagram of the
institutional relationships in the programme, related to the anchoring strategy. The active
networking expected between the national anchoring organisations is intended to support
the dissemination of local experiences at regional levels.
See (IRC 2004b) for more information
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 40
Figure 3: Anchoring institutes in the BUS initiative
Lessons learnt and impact
! The experiences of Kotte Municipal Council and Wattala Urban Council, in Colombo, can
be considered to be somewhere in between multi-stakeholder platforms and Learning
Alliances. Through joint learning between inhabitants and representatives of the local
authority and NGOs, technologies for domestic and solid waste management are being
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 41
scaled up from household to neighbourhood level. At the same time these learning units are
the platforms for planning, prioritising and negotiating those services.
! The AIs play a role in catalysing the LAs. Although the initiative does not as yet include
national level platform representatives of line Ministries other national level stakeholders
have actively participated in the local level platforms. It is hoped that the lessons learnt will
feed back into national policies, so that scaling up to national level can take place.
! Because of the characteristics of an urban environment much impact can already be made
through scaling up from one neighbourhood to others within the same urban centre.
Flexibility is important in selecting the scale and level at which LAs are being established,
depending on the type of environment and the institutional context.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 42
The Multiple Use System (MUS) project: learning alliances and action research on
multiple use water services8
The goal of the MUS project is to improve poor people’s food security and health, reduce
unpaid workloads, alleviate poverty and enhance gender equity. It is to be done through more
effective use of small-scale water supplies and by generating and testing models, guidelines
and tools for sustainable multiple-use systems that are financially affordable to the poor. These
outputs will contribute to a further up scaling of the multiple use approach after the project is
finished. The project will be carried out in 5 major river basins: Bolivia and Colombia in the
Andes; Ethiopia in the Nile basin; India in the Indus/Ganges basin; Thailand in the Mekong
basin and South Africa and Zimbabwe in the Limpopo basin.
The project aims to meet its goal by combining action research with capacity building. The
action research will focus on developing and testing innovative models, guidelines and tools
for planning, implementing and managing sustainable multiple-use water services.
At the same time the project will engage, inform and strengthen the capacity of project partners
and professionals from the domestic and productive water sectors to scale up the more
integrated approaches to water services at the local level.
Action research and capacity building will be carried out in Learning Alliances in which
stakeholder participants are committed to collaborate with institutions and other initiatives on
the issue of multiple use water services. Learning Alliances will be formed at both national and
local levels. The Learning Alliances in the focus countries will hold regular meetings and
undertake joint activities including research, documentation and advocacy.
Lessons learnt and challenges ahead
At the moment, no formal Learning Alliances have been established in the countries where the
project is being carried out. However, the first steps are being made in applying the flexible
framework presented in Section 3. Scoping exercises are being carried out, stakeholder
analyses are being made and meetings are held with national and local level stakeholders. At
the same time work is being done to develop a framework for the action research component.
Some preliminary findings include:
! There is a need to combine research programmes with implementation programmes.
Research programmes normally do not have any (or at least limited) funding for real world
implementation activities. Without having that explicit component in the project, or linking
research programmes to implementation activities, it is difficult to field test innovations
and build the capacity of implementing organisations. Nor will it lead to effective feed-
back into research.
As the project has just started, no further reference material is available. This text mainly draws upon draft
project documents, and the project inception report (Penning de Vries et al., 2004).
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 43
! One needs to carefully think about the institutional “home” of a Learning Alliance. In many
countries there are broad water and sanitation sector platforms, in which different
stakeholders come together. They may vary from fully fledged Sector Wide Approaches
(SWAPs), to formal sector coordination committees, to more informal meetings between
different sector organisations. Whatever the form, these often provide a more or less neutral
meeting space for a (national) Learning Alliance. When these sector platforms have a more
formal role they may actually provide the necessary political endorsement for a project
such as MUS.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 44
Scaling up sustainability of community managed rural water supply and sanitation
services in Ethiopia9
Background and aim
Community management has become the favoured approach for implementing water supply
systems in rural areas in developing countries. It has yielded significant results but has not
been able to supply water on a large scale or secure long term sustainability of water supply
systems, principally because, until recently, communities were expected to operate and manage
their systems on their own. However they do need external support at certain critical points.
Without that both the management organisations and the physical systems will quickly fall
The exact shape of the external support for community managed water services must reflect
context specific needs and possibilities. A learning approach is best suited to develop these
institutional structures, capacities and networks. Without these, scaling up rural water supply is
not feasible. The programme in Ethiopia aims to bring different stakeholders at different levels
together in a three year programme to jointly design the structures, capacities and networks to
scale up community managed water supply services.
The programme was formulated during a workshop on scaling up community management of
rural water supply and sanitation in April 2004 in Addis Ababa. Some 40 people, representing
different water sector organisations participated in this workshop for which the INGO Plan
International and IRC had taken the initiative. The workshop was concluded with the
formulation of a proposal for a 3-year action research programme to scale up community
management in Ethiopia and the formation of a national steering committee to take the scaling
up initiative further. With the support of Plan International the funding for the proposal was
secured in July 2004. The programme officially started in August 2004.
Approach and structure of learning
The approach taken follows an action research cycle of diagnosis, analysis, reflection and
action. The programme has funds to carry out actions defined by the participating stakeholders.
Actions can be as varied as setting up institutional structures, capacity building of district staff,
a national advocacy campaign and construction or rehabilitation of infrastructure. The precise
form of actions needs to come out of the joint diagnosis and discussions between the
participating stakeholders. The actions will be tested in the woreda (district) of Shebedino, in
Ethiopia’s Southern Nation.10 A programme team of three staff members will support the
action research and learning process.
The programme works with learning platforms at different levels. At national level a Steering
Committee has been established, chaired by the Ministry of Water Resources. UNICEF
(United Nations Children’s Fund) and WaterAid are the vice-chairs. Plan Ethiopia provides
secretarial support. Other members of the National Steering Committee include bilateral
No official documents are available yet for this programme. More generic information on the concepts behind
scaling up of community management can be found at (IRC 2004c).
Regions or nations form the administrative level below national level. Ethiopia is a Federation.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 45
donors, research institutes, international NGOs and local NGOs working in the water and
sanitation sector in Ethiopia. A Technical Advisory Group supports the National Steering
At regional level another learning platform has been established. Members of this so-called
Regional Steering Committee are the regional authorities, regional representatives of the
ministries of Water Resources, Health and Finance and Economic Development, international
NGOs and local NGOs and training and research centres working in the area. This Committee,
also supported by a Technical Advisory Group, will guide and participate in the action research
activities in the woreda of Shebedino and will also guide the work of an Action Research Team
set up to conduct the research and implement actions in Shebedino.
The approach of steering committees at different levels offers an opportunity to test and scale
up appropriate institutional support structures for community management in Ethiopia. Local
solutions will find their way to national stakeholders, as must happen if innovations are to be
scaled up from local to regional and national levels. Conversely, national experience and
institutional and financial understanding must be fed back to the local level and national
policies and ongoing programmes must guide local level testing. Just as the action research is a
cycle of learning so too is the process of communication and feedback between the different
Appropriate support structures, better informed policies and improved coordination are
therefore the main targets of this programme.
Although the programme is still young some lessons can be extracted from its constitution and
! There was a concern that the funding for the action research would not be sufficient to
carry out the intervention “actions.” However, the experience in Ethiopia has shown that,
with a clear structure for the Learning Alliance (in this case the Steering Committees), with
clear targets and with support from a broad group of stakeholders, funding for interventions
can easily be mobilised.
! Commitment and enthusiasm are necessary but not enough to build an effective Learning
Alliance. Some basic conditions need to be fulfilled to make systematic learning possible.
These conditions are, in the case of Ethiopia, provided by the programme team: funding for
meetings, workshops, training and field work; technical support; organisation and
facilitation of workshops and training; a secretariat; transport, etc.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 46
Annex 2. A flexible framework for establishing and working with Learning
From the existing experiences with Learning Alliances described in Section 3 and Annex 1, we
have devised a framework for the process of establishing and working with LAs. The tables in
the following pages seek to set out in a succinct form the main generic ‘steps’ that will need to
be gone through in the process. The tables are intended as a conceptually grounded but flexible
framework to guide the process of establishing learning platforms at different levels; they are
not intended to be followed mechanically from start to finish.
The processes to be initiated and supported should be dynamic, flexible and chaotic (in the true
sense of the word – i.e. unpredictable and subject to sudden change). The ‘steps’ in the tables
should be seen as markers or waypoints within a system that could start from several different
points and follow several different routes, but in which most of these markers will have to be
visited at least once. For example, the illustrated flow is from national to local level. That
might be applicable in some instances but it would be equally valid to start at the district or
community level if, for example, an implementing partner was already involved in work there.
The essential is that, wherever the start, the Alliance is soundly constructed of several linked
learning platforms at different levels, offering the ability to quickly scale up innovations.
In using this framework to develop plans for a specific project it will therefore be important to
adapt the current steps and their order into some sort of planning framework (a Gantt chart for
instance), indicating clearly the starting point and level and the expected order and timing of
the other steps.
In terms of a vision of what a guideline may look like by the end of a project, ideally it will be
a sort of ‘toolbox’- electronic or printed – in which the table provides the framework, and in
which the tools, outputs, activities and objectives have been validated and updated. It should
be accompanied by case studies from projects (in the different basins, for instance), based on
the process documentation; successes, failures, lessons learned etc. An electronic version will
allow a user to click on – for example – a tool, and then pull up a fact sheet that talks them
through how to use that tool, with the fact sheet in turn linked to a case study in which it has
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 47
Step Objective Activities Tools11 Outputs Remarks
Step 1: Scoping • To come to a clear • Discussion within • Discussion • Short (1-2 page) • The discussions at district level normally start
agreement as to the core partnership description of theme – from innovative work that people may want to
boundaries of the suitable for use in scale up.
theme to be dealt with working with • At national level it is about identifying the
stakeholders in steps 2 ‘innovation’ to be introduced to a country. In some
and 3 cases, a broad theme may be identified, e.g.
Integrated Water Resources Management. This
may be broken down in a number of specific
innovations with the different stakeholders.
Step 2: Mapping • To know who is • Initial stakeholder • The functional • An initial list of likely • Make sure that the different types of functions
stakeholders somehow engaged mapping exercise matrix (see stakeholders who may be are represented (see Table 1)
with the theme (likely to be repeated in Section 5) approached to join the • Normally, one could target the line ministries
defined earlier next step) • RAAKS (Rapid national LA and national organisations from whom the district
Appraisal of organisations depend.
Step 3a: Creating • To reach agreement • Stakeholder workshop • SWOT • Initial contacts can take place before the
interest in a on the common • Institutional SWOT • Sector scan workshop.
national alliance objective of the LA tools • If additional organisations are identified, a
• To create interest second workshop may be held
• To fine tune in the • Good facilitation will be essential at this
organisations that are workshop
members • This may especially be the case when there are
either blockages at national level (e.g. policy
framework) to take the innovations forward, or
when there are good opportunities to take
innovations forward at national level (e.g. certain
donor or national programmes).
• In most cases there will be a need to have a
National LA (NLA)
Discussing each of the different tools goes beyond the scope of this paper. References for more information are given to tools that are not “commonly” used.
RAAKS is a methodology that has been designed and tested to help stakeholders gain a better understanding of their performance as innovators. For more information see
(Royal Tropical Institute 2004). It has originally been developed by (Engel 1995).
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 48
Step Objective Activities Tools11 Outputs Remarks
Step 3b: • To identify the • Meetings with key • Terms of reference for • In some cases it may take the form of a National
Formalisation of commitment of stakeholders to follow the Learning alliance Steering Committee.
the national member organisations up 3a and formalise the • It may be necessary to have a secretariat with the
alliance • To form a working terms of the alliance National Steering Committee.
group to take the
• To establish the
scope of activities
• To identify roles
Step 4: • Scoping of national • As above • Project cycle • Work plan for the • For each step roles and responsibilities need to
National process process finalised tools – e.g. alliance including: clear be defined, between the member organisations.
scoping and • Structure and European Union frameworks for planning, • It is also noted that some activities, especially
design boundaries of learning Project Cycle design of interventions, around policy development, may not have proper
and implementation Management (EU implementation, project cycles. Still it is important to know who
process agreed PCM)13, monitoring and does what and in what sequence
Step 5: • Pilot district(s) • Carry out initial • Selection • Institutional ‘readiness’ • The criteria may include: commitment of
Identification of identified and agreed district level criteria report – describing organisations in district, presence of
pilot district(s)/ discussions with key • Stakeholder enabling environment in representatives of national stakeholders in district,
area(s) stakeholders to mapping district and assessing ongoing initiatives, etc.
ascertain interest and • Water chances to scale up • In general, for scaling up, the criteria for
suitability resources • Water resource institutional linkages should be the most important
assessment assessment report criteria.
(WRA)15 describing current water
resource and water
critical issues relevant.
• Highlighting existing
experiences with similar
concepts in the district if
See (EC 2004) for more information.
The EMPOWERS (Euro-Mediterranean Participatory Water Resources Scenarios) Partnership is developing a project cycle, especially aimed at integrating a local level
IWRM (Integrated Water Resources Management) approach. For more information, see (Moriarty and Batchelor forthcoming). Within this project cycle a number of tools is
A water resource assessment is a systematic study of the status of water resources and trends in accessibility and demand within a specific domain of interest. For more
information, see (Batchelor and Moriarty forthcoming).
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 49
Step Objective Activities Tools Outputs Remarks
Step 1: Set up • District learning • District level • Workshop • The criteria may include: geographical
District Learning alliance established stakeholder workshop conditions, ongoing initiatives, presence of
Alliance (DLA) • To reach agreement stakeholders in the village, etc.
on the common
objective of the LA
• To create
• To develop a forum
aspects of the LA
Step 2: • District level
District process institutional SWOT
Step 3. • To structure the • The DLA (possibly • At least there • The communities can • Ensure that new planning and
Project cycle at learning and with pilot villages) and should be clear already be part of this Step, so implementation approaches tailor as closely as
district level implementation the NLA frameworks for actually Step 3 and Step 4 may possible with existing ones – and that where
process planning, design coincide (or not) depending on changes are necessary these are designed and
of interventions, each situation. are acceptable at both district and national
implementation • For each step roles and level.
and monitoring responsibilities need to be
and evaluation defined, between the member
Step 4 • To identify potential
Identify pilot pilot villages/
• To ensure interest of
villages to the process
• To have villages as
members of District
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 50
Step Objective Activities Tools Outputs Remarks
Step 1: • To have identified: • Stakeholder analysis • Stakeholder mapping • Village action
Village level Major water uses/users • Participatory • Various EMPOWERS plans
scoping Amount of water visioning/problem project cycle tools
used/available (resource identification • WRA
and supply) (quantity, • ‘light’ water resource • RIDA (Resources,
quality, reliability) assessment to establish Infrastructure, Demand,
The main bottlenecks and baseline of potential for Access)16
To have assessed the • Participatory action
likely impact on gender planning
• To have developed/
strengthened a village
Step 2: • More details will be given in the guidelines
Village level for implementation and research
Recurrent activities at all levels
Ongoing • To make sure that • These include:
activities replication is ensured action research,
See (Moriarty et al. 2004) for more information.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 51
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IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre 52